The Kennedy Center

Kenny Barron


Kenny Barron is one of the premier pianists in mainstream jazz. His recent honors and awards include the top pianist ranking in Down Beat's 47th Annual Critics Poll and Best Jazz Pianist for four consecutive years by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Born in 1943, Kenny Barron was the youngest of five children, all of whom took piano lessons. By the age of 15 he was playing professionally in Mel Melvin's R&B band. Before he reached his 20th birthday he had already been a member of groups led by Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Heath, Yusef Lateef, Roy Haynes, James Moody, and John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie. From 1962-66, Mr. Barron toured internationally with Gillespie's quintet (which included Chris White, Rudy Collins, Moody, and Gillespie).

In the late 1960s, encouraged by Lateef, Mr. Barron returned to college, ultimately receiving a bachelor's degree from Empire State College. In 1973 he joined the faculty of Rutgers University where he became a tenured professor of music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts/Douglas, remaining on the staff until 2000. In the mid 1970s Mr. Barron and his colleagues at Rutgers formed the group The Jazz Professor, which included Mr. Barron, bassist Larry Ridley, guitarist Ted Dunbar, saxophonist Frank Foster, and drummer Freddie Waits.

Sunset to Dawn (Muse 1974) was the first of nearly 50 recordings Mr. Barron has made as an ensemble leader. Mr. Barron has performed and recorded with the leading lights of the jazz world including Ron Carter, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Benny Maupin, Buddy Rich, James Spaulding, Sonny Stitt, and Stanley Turrentine. He co-led a band with trumpeter Jimmy Owens and throughout the 1980s collaborated and toured with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz. With Getz, Mr. Barron recorded several legendary albums including Anniversary, Serenity, and the Grammy-nominated People Time. Also in the 1980s he formed the group Sphere with drummer Ben Riley, bassist Buster Williams, and tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse to focus on the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk. Sphere's recordings on the Polygram label included the outstanding Four For All and Bird Songs.

After the death of Charlie Rouse, the band dissolved but reunited 15 years later with alto saxophonist Gary Bartz in Rouse's place. This reunion made its debut recording for Verve in 1998. Kenny Barron's Verve recordings as a leader have earned him seven Grammy nominations, beginning with the Brazilian influenced Samboa (1993) to Freefall (2001). 

Kenny Barron performed in a solo jazz piano recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on March 15, 1996, and returned with his group, Canta Brasil, for two performances on September 27, 2002.  Mr. Barron returned to the Terrace Theater with his Quintet and vibraphonist Stefon Harris  (October 9, 2004), performed as part of NPR's A Jazz Piano Christmas (December 10, 2004) and as part of the Kennedy Center's All-Star Tribute to Shirley Horn (December 11, 2004) in the Eisenhower Theater.

Last updated: March 1, 2007
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